Produce: Organic or Conventional?

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It’s common knowledge that conventional produce is routinely treated with chemicals and pesticides that some studies show may potentially cause illness, reproductive issues, and many types of cancer. 

According to the Environmental Working Group, approximately 70% of produce available today is treated with these toxins. With statistics this high you may be wondering if you need to buy only organic produce in order to avoid it. 

The good news is that when it comes to buying organic not all produce is worth the extra cost!

In this list, I break down what to look for when deciding whether to go organic or conventional.

Is it one of the “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Clean 15?”

The “Dirty Dozen” is a list of the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and the “Clean Fifteen” is a list of the least contaminated. The Dirty Dozen should always be purchased organic if possible, especially if you eat them frequently. This list changes annually. Here are the most recent results:

DIRTY DOZEN

• Strawberries

• Spinach

• Kale

• Nectarines

• Apples

• Grapes

• Peaches

• Cherries

• Pears

• Tomatoes

• Celery

• Potatoes

CLEAN FIFTEEN

• Avocados

• Sweet Corn

• Pineapples

• Sweet Peas (Frozen)

• Onions

• Papayas

• Eggplants

• Asparagus

• Kiwi

• Cabbage

• Cauliflower

• Cantaloupe

• Broccoli

• Mushrooms

• Honeydew Melon

Consider the thickness of the peel/skin.

Whether the item has a thick skin or a thin peeling is something to consider when deciding between organic and conventional. For example, the thick skin of an orange, avocado or banana will work to keep pesticides from reaching the edible insides. 

However, keep in mind if you are cutting into any of these items, even with a thicker skin that you will not eat, be sure to wash them thoroughly prior to cutting! One study of avocados showed that almost 20% of avocados are contaminated with listeria. Cutting into a contaminated avocado without washing it first could transfer the bacteria onto the actual fruit. (Yes, an avocado is actually a fruit!)

Also, pay no attention to the claims you may have seen circulating about the color of a bananas stalk indicating whether it has been chemically ripened or not. If you’re purchasing your bananas in a U.S. supermarket, even organic bananas are almost always chemically ripened. 

How often do you eat that particular item?

Consider how often you eat that particular fruit or vegetable. If it’s something you eat on a regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing organic since you will be consuming a substantial amount of toxins over time if you go conventional. For items you eat less frequently, it likely will not make a difference.

For example, my daughters eat apples like crazy so I prefer to buy organic to avoid constant exposure to conventional toxins. However, for something like plums that we only purchase maybe once every month or two, it isn’t likely to make a difference to our health if we choose to purchase conventional plums.

Are there more nutrients in organic produce?

Opinions are mixed, but no studies have consistently shown a significant nutritional difference between conventional and organic produce. As it stands, it seems that there is no substantial difference.

How can I save money on organic produce?

• Buy in bulk. If you have a large family or just eat a lot of produce, purchasing in bulk from stores like Costco can save consumers a lot when buying organic.

• Consider buying frozen or canned organic fruits and vegetables. Not only are you more likely to use them (hello spoiled, forgotten produce in the back of the fridge!) but in studies nutrient content has been shown to be the same as fresh produce!

Remember that when it comes to buying organic produce it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” Follow the tips and recommendations above to decide which fruits and vegetables you should be buying organic!


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